One of the best ways of mortifying the flesh is to take a look at the Sunday Times. As one of those prepared neither to buy the rag nor pay for Mr Murdoch's paywall such inspections take an intermittent turn - but it is a salutary reminder that the paper's politics are well to the right of barking, and its contributors obedient serfs at the neo-con wordface.
As if harbouring Rod Liddle and Jeremy Clarkson wasn't bad enough, the paper's agenda now appears to be a mixture of foaming UKIP apologia and the kind of Daily Mail prurience I berated earlier in the week. Today's particular pleasure was a two-page rant about welfare and child abuse penned by a Camilla Cavendish, whose splenetic gurglings focused on a theory that because both Philpott and the Baby P Haringey disaster were in receipt of social security benefits they should be stopped forthwith. The element of playing to the gallery aside, this would be tenable were it not for the fact that abuse and milking the system are hardly the sole preserve of the demonised proletariat - witness the Churches and the City as other egregious examples of denial and entitlement.
The Tories are clearly limbering up to make welfare their centrepiece of right-wing dog-whistling in 2015. The linguistic constructions are fascinating - for much of the post-war period such payments were defined as social security, a recognition that this was a means of promoting both civilised values and social cohesion. The fact that the vast majority of benefits are paid either to those in low-paid work, enabling companies to pay below-subsistence rates and boost their profits, or to pensioners, the shibboleth of current politics, is not going to get in the way of the myth that somehow everyone in receipt of benefits is a scrounger. The fact that people believe 27% of claims are fraudulent, whereas in fact it is around 0.8% will never get in the way of a good ruck.
Another linguistic curiosity is that the shirker/striver/hard-working family mantra continues to resonate. The judgements implicit in this are the kind of repugnant, mendacious dualism that Osborne and Cameron revel in. The assumption that we should be cheering on a return to the 1950s and the family unit, promoting all its repression and paranoia, while supporting this particular lifestyle choice through tax breaks and public approval, is questionable at best. At worst it is a further example of how the fear of otherness is being pushed forward as an alternative to education, acceptance and diversity.
In order to determine whether the right-wing spew has gone beyond the limits of civilised acceptability there is an easy substitution test. Just insert the word "Jew" or "black" in the place of the group being demonised. If I were to write that all Tory journalists were worthy only of being paraded naked in shame down the Fulham Road then this would be equally offensive and risible as the idiotic posturing that the Chancellor and Prime Minister emerged with last week, as well as failing the substitution test.
There has been some mildly encouraging development on the centre-left, though. Beaker has finally brought himself to criticise Osborne, which is an event that in a rational world would result in a national fiesta - and even Clegg has discovered some cojones. It is notable that the rhetoric emerging from Ed Balls and others is focusing on the Tory Party, hopefully recognising that the Coalition is mutable and this is an issue that needs to be pushed to detach any Liberal Democrats still fellow-travelling from those who are still holding their noses and keeping a distasteful bargain.
Meanwhile, Liam Byrne has been rethinking Labour social security policy - including a recognition that there have to be jobs to go to before castigating those outside the workforce. Whatever the details, funding training and jobs as part of a reflation is a sensible policy - alongside recognising that "we're all in this together" also means that people who are prudent should not be penalised.
Once the current hysteria has died down, the ignorant will continue to spout their bilious nonsense. The Tories are desperate and cornered and need their scapegoats. Never forget that much of the media is no better than regurgitating nodding-donkey fodder, and even the quality end is not averse to tub-thumping. Ludicrous hate speech will only become more commonplace, and those of us who wish to fight back need to be prepared to call out the cretins with the lack of compunction that they normally reserve for unfortunate fellow humans.